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Working out on-campus or off: What's the best deal?
Working out on-campus or off: What's the best deal?

By Sara Lyle

After a full day of classes, it's the last thing you want to do. But the alternative to not working out (gaining weight) is less attractive. So you strap on the spandex and walk to the on-campus gym, only to find the equipment you want is being hogged by one person. Then you get a glimpse of the long line of people behind him - waiting to use it.

No pain, no gain, right? Not so say some students. More and more of them seem to be willing to shell out the extra money to avoid the on-campus crunch - and join an off-campus gym.

Kimmy Harrison is one of those students. She preferred to sweat it out at 24-Hour Fitness facilities, rather than work out in the University of California-Los Angeles' student fee funded gyms, before graduating in 1996.

"I'm sure there's a lot of people who come here just to meet men or women"

Program Director, Bally's

Now a program director for Bally's in Los Angeles, Harrison says the allure of off-campus clubs is more than just social atmosphere. At her gym, you can use the services of nutrition specialists and massage therapists, plus other amenities like an Olympic-size swimming pool.

What's more, rarely do gym members wait more than two minutes to use equipment. Compare that to the half-hour Harrison says she would have waited at UCLA's open-to-all-Bruins facilities.

So is spending a little money really worth it? That depends on your goals. Harrison readily admits some off-campus clubs have a meat-market reputation. "I'm sure there's a lot of people who come here just to meet men or women," she says. But for some, that's the attraction.

Budget-conscious students are also drawn to big name national fitness chains because their TV ads promise low introductory rates and results. Numerous staffers are always available to answer questions about classes, equipment or nutrition.

"People will work out at places that are convenient and pleasant. I think one of the terms being used today is a place that's 'sexy.'"

Executive director, AAALF

But even when the price is right, often the services aren't, says Dr. Jan Seaman.

"The literature shows that the things that are most appealing are not necessarily connected to the kinds of equipment and services people need." The executive director of the American Association for Active Lifestyles and Fitness goes on to say, "People will work out at places that are convenient and pleasant. I think one of the terms being used today is a place that's 'sexy.'"

Instead, she says young adults should seek out a cross-section of aerobic and strength-training opportunities first, and consider social aspects later. Seaman also advises against paying for a smorgasbord of services that many collegians may never use.

Students should explore classes offered by the physical education department, too, and learn which amenities they prefer before they have no choice but to workout off-campus. "Take advantage of those to the best extent possible, so you can learn to be a good consumer after you graduate," Seaman says.

University of Nebraska student Jill Butler says she learned the hard way after wasting $70 a year on her local YMCA membership. These days, the 19-year-old both works and works out at UN's $14.9 million campus recreation center, paid for by student activity fees.

University of Nebraska Rec Center
University of Nebraska's
Campus Recreation Center

"There's always two to three staff members in the weight room to assist you, and they clean up after you," says the rec center office assistant. "When I was at the 'Y', there wasn't anyone to do those things but me."

While she admits students sometimes abuse equipment time limits, making others wait to exercise, she says her school's facilities offer as much as - if not more than - national fitness chains.

Besides providing aerobics classes, pools, nutritionists and five different types of athletic courts, the rec center also is the hub of Nebraska's intramural programs, which serves up competition and camaraderie for students-turned-weekend warriors.

Despite Dr. Seaman's warnings, Butler says she really looks forward to the fun aspects of working out with fellow university students. But the main reason she claims, seemingly free, on-campus clubs beat the big name fitness centers of the world is - in a word - "convenience."

"It's more convenient to work out on campus, because we're here all day anyway," she says. "We can just swing through the gym on the way home from classes."

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